Admirals Advice

Bravo Zulu

Bad news travels fast aboard a navy warship. The commanding officer must know immediately if anything negative has occurred to the ship or crew member that may affect the ship’s safety or battle readiness.

Bad news travels fast aboard a navy warship. The commanding officer must know immediately if anything negative has occurred to the ship or crew member that may affect the ship’s safety or battle readiness.

There’s a naval saying, “you get what you inspect, not what you expect”. However, with so much negativity moving up the line, over time leaders may become jaded. If they aren’t careful, all they see after a few weeks or months at sea is the negatives. Anything out of place catches their attention but positive behaviors may get ignored or overlooked.

Unfortunately, leaders who fall into this trap typically get more of what they don’t want. Calling out mistakes is important but children, adults and even animals tend to repeat behavior that is rewarded; behaviors not rewarded soon dissipate. Positive behavior reinforcement is critical to the success of any team.

It’s also important to recognize the behavior when it happens. That’s how behavioral reinforcement works; both positive and negative must be recognized in a timely manner. In the days of sailing ships, naval officers signaled their satisfaction with the Bravo and Zulu nautical flags. When hoisted in combination, “BZ” tells sailors, “Well done.” The impact of this on culture can be huge and yet it’s easy to overlook when we are solely focused on the negative. It’s critically important that we always look for the positive.

Here are three ways to build a healthy workplace environment on a frigate or in any organizational setting.

  1.  Stay four-to-one positive: Criticism works like food coloring or dye. A little goes a long way.  Harsh words can stick in the mind of a conscientious person for years or even decades. When I commanded the USS Truett in the Atlantic Fleet, we implemented a policy of looking for positive behaviors and striving to ensure a 4:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback. This forced our leadership team to focus on behaviors we wanted to see repeated. We understand there’s always a need for negative reinforcement whenever warranted to maintain accountability and set the standard. Failure to recognize and admonish if necessary can be detrimental to the culture as well.
  2. Admonish in private, praise in public: People need to know when they do something wrong. Small issues can become big issues especially should they jeopardize safety. Whenever possible, these conversations should happen behind closed doors to preserve the dignity of the person being corrected. Private conversations may and should also include praise. The results can be huge when a leader pulls somebody aside and says one-on-one: “I appreciate the job you did yesterday.” And the benefits can spread even faster when peers hear the commendation in a team meeting or some other public forum.
  3. Measure success: Finding fault is easy. Leaders must always work to watch for and reward positive actions. One way is to embed the practice in the formal appraisal process. When designed properly, the process allows the supervisor to discuss specifics of an individual’s performance and from that to counsel, and thus demonstrate that she/he knows and cares about the individual’s personal development.

NewDay USA does not hoist nautical flags outside its corporate offices in Fulton, Md., but we hold regular “Bravo Zulu” luncheons to recognize high performers. The activity is one of many designed to build a positive workplace culture. In a harsh world full of negativity, these efforts go a long way to build loyalty and trust.

Ultimately, the positivity gets passed forward to NewDay customers. The results are contagious when supervisors recognize positive behavior, stop and say, “I appreciate the job you are doing. Well Done.”

Rear Admiral Thomas C. Lynch (USN, Ret.) is Executive Chairman of the Board of Advisors at NewDay USA, a mortgage lender in Fulton, Md., that specializes in VA-guaranteed loans. As Chairman, the Admiral instills military values in every member of his team.

To learn more about NewDay USA and see the Admiral’s leadership in action, call us today. It is our mission to help you get the financial security you deserve.